The Men on the Memorial

The stories of Skelsmergh's First World War dead

Skelsmergh memorial crossOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

One hundred
years ago...

One hundred years ago, at midnight on 4 August 1914, after the German invasion of Belgium, the UK joined with France and Russia to declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Many people expected this war to be over quickly but it lasted four years and drew in the countries of the British and other European empires, as well as Japan and the United States on the Allied side, and the Ottoman Empire on the other, to become a global war that took the lives of over 9 million people. Of more than 16,000 parishes in England and Wales, there were only 53 “Thankful Villages” – places to which everyone returned alive. Skelsmergh (Cumbria, England, UK) was not in this tiny number: 25 men with local links died. They belonged to the church parish, that includes Patton and Scalthwaiterigg and in 1914 extended to Far Cross in what is now Kendal. This exhibition is about these men. 

Skelsmergh lych gate memorial (erected after 1920)Europeana

The lych gate 

The lych gate at the entrance to Skelsmergh church in Cumbria is the parish’s main war memorial. It is carved with the words ‘Gate of Remembrance’ and ‘The Great War 1914-18’. It was erected after 1920 but, unlike all the other local memorials, we have not yet discovered when exactly it was put up, who designed it or how it was paid for. A wooden cross was presented by the local MP, Colonel Weston, at a memorial service in the church on 12 August 1917. It was installed in the lych-gate after the war but was cleaned and brought into the church in 1988. The centre of the cross contains four lines by the Scottish war poet Joseph Lee from his poem, Our British Dead: Forget us not, O Land for which we fell May it go well with England, still go well. Keep her bright banners without blot or stain, Lest we should dream that we had died in vain. There are 19 brass plates on the cross for men who died. Two other names have been added to graves outside the church.

Kendalian's Story of the ChargeOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

The Blezard Brothers

The Blezard family lost two sons. John Blezard was born in Kendal, Cumbria in 1892. He worked as a carter and then joined the regular army when he was 18, four years before the war, serving as a private in the 2nd Border Regiment. In 1912 he married May Wesson in Kendal. They had two daughters, Irene and Ivy, by the time of his death near Sailly in France on 1 December 1914 at the age of 23. He was the first Skelsmergh-linked death of the war – he is commemorated in Skelsmergh because his parents, Tom and Alice, lived opposite Burton House at Stocks Cottages, in Skelsmergh – these houses have since been demolished. John’s younger brother, James Blezard, worked as a teenager with his father at Oak Bank Mill. When he was old enough, he too enlisted in the regular army and joined the 2nd Border Regiment. He was in the trenches by November 1914. He received a bullet in the foot in May 1915 and the following year was again hospitalised with a wound in the hip. He was promoted to corporal but was killed on October 26 1917 at the Second Battle of Passchendaele during an attack in which many men in the regiment got stuck in mud up to the waist and killed by machine gun fire. He is buried in the huge Tyne Cot cemetery.

John Blezard, Original Source: Europeana 1914-1918
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John Blezard died on 1 December 1914 (aged 23)

James Blezard, From the collection of: Europeana
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James Blezard died on 26 October 1917 (aged 20)

Somme battlefield (1916)Original Source: Europeana 1914-1918

"Pals" at the Somme

Frederick Edward Heslop was the son of Frances Heslop, a Warcop farmer’s daughter. The year after his birth in 1898 his mother married Leonard Coates. He was brought up at Orton in Cumbria but after his stepfather’s death, Frances and her seven children moved to Garnett Plain in Skelsmergh and lived there until she died in 1932. Fred worked at Ellergill Farm at Orton but volunteered at the start of the war and joined the Lonsdale Pals (11th Border Regiment) and then the 32nd Divisional Cyclists Company. The Lonsdale Pals was a volunteer battalion raised by Lord Lonsdale of Lowther Castle. He died on 1 July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – a day when more than 19,000 British soldiers died. He was 18. Fred has no known grave but is commemorated on the Thiepval Monument quite close to where he must have died.

Fred HeslopEuropeana

Frederick Edward Heslop died on 1 July 1916 (aged 18)

Fred Heslop with friendsOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Four Orton men including Fred (tallest) in front of Carlisle racecourse stadium. The news of his death came in letters from two of his friends in this picture. Photo courtesy of Colin Bardgett.

Thomas BaileyEuropeana

Dead in 7 Days

Thomas Bailey was born in 1896 near Far Cross in Kendal, Cumbria – this was in the Scalthwaiterigg part of Skelsmergh & Scalthwaiterigg parish at the time of the First World War. By the age of 14, Tom was working as a bobbin turner at Oakbank. He joined the 8th Border Regiment before the war was a month old, claiming to be a year older than he was, and, after a year’s training, landed in France on 27 September 1915. Seven days later he was killed in a trench near Ploegsteert. He was buried in the London Rifle Brigade Cemetery in Belgium. ‘ Kendal lad out of B company has been killed. He was popping his head above the trench to see if he could spot a German and a sniper got him. The bullet hit him in the nose and came out the back of his head. He lived about three hours....’ Tom was 19 and the only son of Elizabeth and Nicholas Bailey.

Front Line Trench, Near St. Yves, Ploegsteert Wood (1915-05) by Geoffrey K. RoseOriginal Source: Imperial War Museum

Dear Mrs Bailey

"I am very sorry to have to write to you on such a sad matter. You will have heard from the WarOffice about the most unfortunate accident to your son but a War Office notice is a lifelessthing and as your son’s officer at the time of his death I thought I would write and let youknow how deeply grieved we all were to lose him. He was a very smart and perfect soldierand had been chosen as a scout; he was beloved by all his comrades and was one of themost promising men I had. He was firing over the trench at the Germans when he was hit inthe head: he died practically at once. I am not allowed to tell you here the place where he isburied but I will write and tell you the exact spot when we have left here. At any rate he liesamong heroes and has joined those who died for others in a better place. He died doing hisduty; we all hope the same may one day be said of us. With real sympathy for your grief. I remain, yours sincerely, A E Aldous"

John Appleton Thompson killed in actionEuropeana

Using a false name

John Appleton Thompson was baptised in Skelsmergh church, Cumbria in 1888 and brought up at Scalthwaiterigg Stocks, but before the war he joined the Oldham police force. In January 1915 he enlisted as a private in the Grenadier Guards giving the name of John Saunders and claiming to be a farmer. It was not unusual for recruits to give a false name but John’s motive is a mystery. John arrived in France in November 1915 and in June of the following year made a declaration of his real name. The Guards were in action around Arrow Head Copse, Guillemont in the Somme when he was shot by a German sniper on 12 September 1916. He has no known grave. He was the only child of John and Mary Thompson who moved from Scalthwaiterigg Stocks to 5 Woodside Terrace, Mealbank and then 34 Mealbank. John’s father and grandfather had both worked at the Mealbank mill and previously lived at Scarfoot in Skelsmergh. His officer described him as a brave and fearless man who had volunteered to go and take a German trench the night before he died.

John Appleton ThompsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

John Appleton Thompson died on 12 September 1916 (aged 28)

Telegram related to John Vincent VaulkhardOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Scholarship boy

John Vincent Vaulkhard was born in Kendal, Cumbria on 28 January 1896. He was educated at Kendal Grammar School and won an open scholarship to Trinity Hall, Cambridge to study Natural Science in September 1912. He joined the Officers Training Corps while at Cambridge in October 1914 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regiment in February 1915. He was attached to the 8th battalion arriving in France on 24 May 1916. He was killed, aged 20, on 15 September 1916 during an unsuccessful assault against the Quadrilateral Redoubt. He has no known grave. John’s parents were Mary and William Vaulkhard. The Vaulkhards were Stramongate drapers and lived at 31 Crescent Green, within Skelsmergh church parish until 1960 when it became part of Kendal. 

John Vincent VaulkhardOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

John Vincent Vaulkhard died on 15 September 1916 (aged 20)

Albert Allen killed in actionOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Farmer's son

Albert Allen was born in 1883 and as a teenager worked on his father’s farm. Albert was the third son of John and Isabella Allen who farmed in Skelsmergh in Cumbria for more than 40 years, first at Garth Row and then Burton House. He joined the Cumberland and Westmorland Yeomanry before the war and volunteered for the Durham Light Infantry early in the conflict. He was killed on 16 September 1916 in a costly attack during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Thiepval Monument. He was 33 and both his parents were already dead by the time of his death. 

Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French Cemetery (2010-09-12) by Carcharoth (Wikimedia Commons User)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

Albert Allan is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France

Richard Noble killed in actionOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Never saw his son

Richard Noble was born in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria in 1893 and worked on a farm in Meathop before the war. He enlisted in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in November 1914. In May 1915 he married Florence May Harrison in Skelsmergh Church. She was a farm worker of 21 whose father was a sawyer living at Goody Nook in Garth Row. Richard was killed on 28 September 1916 aged 23. Three days later, on 1 October, their son, also called Richard, was baptised in Skelsmergh Church. Richard would not have seen his son and Florence probably did not know of her husband’s death at the time of the baptism.

Richard NobleEuropeana

Richard Noble died on 28 September 1916 (aged 23)

James Atkinson killed in actionOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Kendal postman

Jim Atkinson was born in 1892 in Scalthwaiterigg, Cumbria to James and Mary Atkinson and attended Mealbank school. His father was a railway worker and they lived at Railway Cottage, Scalthwaiterigg but, after her husband’s death, Mary and the children moved to 24 Mealbank. By 1911 his mother had left the area but James worked as a wool cleaner at the Mealbank Mill and boarded with his married elder sister Mary at Scarfoot, Skelsmergh. He married Sarah Beck, daughter of James Beck, the Garnett Folds woodcutter, in 1914. He lived with her at Garnett Folds and worked as a Kendal postman until he joined the 1st Border Regiment in early 1916. He was killed by a shell near Lesbouef at the Somme on 20 November. His wife had given birth to a daughter – Constance Atkinson – earlier that year.

Jim AtkinsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

James Atkinson died on 20 November 1916 (aged 24)

Thomas Atkinson news clipping (1916)Original Source: Europeana 1914-1918


Thomas Atkinson was born in Kendal, Cumbria in 1884. He worked as a boot clicker (cutting out leather uppers for shoes), groundsman at Heversham and then in the Spinning Department at Mealbank Mill. His parents, Edward and Jane Atkinson, had moved to 22 Mealbank before the war. He was a well-known local cricketer who had played for Kendal 1st XI. He volunteered in October 1915 and became a private in the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He survived the July 1916 battle of the Somme but on the night of 10 December 1916, the Argyles relieved a French regiment in trenches near Bouchevesne and Tom was one of five men who were killed during the three days they were in the frontline. 

Thomas AtkinsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Thomas Atkinson died on 13 December 1916 (aged 33)

James Hawes is missingOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

One lived, one died

James Hawes was born in Strickland Roger (Burneside), Cumbria on 24 May 1895. His early years were spent at Cocks Close, Garnett Bridge and then Strawberry Bank, Skelsmergh. By the age of 15 he was a farm worker at Coppack How (now Coppice How) in Skelsmergh and later at Burneside Hall and Laithwaite farms. He enlisted as a private in the Cumberland and Westmorland Yeomanry early in the war and was transferred to the East Riding Yeomanry. On 15 April 1917 he was on the transport ship Arcadian sailing from Salonika to Alexandria in Egypt when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Although the boat took only three minutes to sink over a thousand survived, including his younger brother Joseph, but James was one of the 277 who drowned. James’s parents were James Hawes from Hawkshead who met and married Barbara Fanny Redmayne when he was shepherding for her father at the farm called Hill in Burneside. They are both buried in Skelsmergh churchyard. 

James HawesOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

James Hawes died on 15 April 1917 (aged 21)

Thomas Hayes Towers is missingOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Arras Victim

Thomas Hayes Towers was born in 1884, the son of Robert Towers a farmer of Scalthwaiterigg and Mary Hayes of Ladyford. He was educated at Burneside School and then worked as an agricultural worker at Gilthwaiterigg and as a carter in Windermere amongst other places before the war. He enlisted in the 7th Border Regiment and died during the Battle of Arras in an attack near Pelves on 23 April 1917. The attack was met with intense machine gun fire and the regiment suffered heavy losses. Thomas was a single man of 33 whose parents had both died before the war. He is probably on the cross for this parish because his parents were married in Skelsmergh church and buried in the graveyard and because his nearest relations lived at 2 Vineyard Terrace on the Appleby Road near Far Cross which was in Scalthwaiterigg. 

Thomas Hayes TowersOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Thomas Hayes Towers died on 23 April 1917 (aged 33)

Thomas Steele killed in actionOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

New Zealander

Thomas Steele was the son of Abraham and Agnes Steele. He was born in Grayrigg but after the death of his father his mother took over the tenancy of Bow Bank farm in Skelsmergh, Cumbria and he was brought up there and educated at Burneside School. Thomas emigrated to New Zealand in 1908 where he farmed and became a manager of a cream factory. He was part of a great wave of emigration from Britain in the years leading up to 1914. It is believed that his two brothers and sister also went to New Zealand. In 1915 he enlisted as a trooper in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He landed at Suez in December 1915 and served in the Middle East for the next 18 months but was killed by a bomb in Egypt on 4 May 1917. He is buried in Gaza in Palestine. Thomas was unmarried but he had a New Zealand fiancé to whom he left money. 

Thomas SteeleOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Thomas Steele died on 4 May 1917 (aged 27)

Arthur Robert Tailzour-Shepherd killed in actionOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Heir to Shaw End

Arthur Robert Tailzour-Shepherd was the son of Henry and Mary Shepherd of ‘the Big House’ – Shaw End in Patton, Cumbria. He was born in 1895 and attended Repton and then St Bees School. He entered the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry as a Second Lieutenant in October 1914 at the age of 19. Unusually, he resigned his commission in April 1916 and signed on as a private in the Royal Fusiliers. This was probably to see action – like many of the Yeoman he had been kept in Britain in reserve for the first two years of the war. He was sent out to Salonica with a draft of men to fight the Bulgarians in Macedonia. He joined the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry as a Lance Corporal but died on 9 May 1917 in the attempt to take Petit Couronne. The Shepherds were landed gentry and Arthur was their only son. 

Arthur Robert Tailzour-ShepherdOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Arthur Tailzour-Shepherd died on 9 May 1917 (aged 21)

Jonah George Thompson on a motorbikeOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Air Adventurer

Jonah George Thompson was born in December 1890, one of nine children born to Mary and John of Garnett Bridge in Cumbria. Jonah was born at West View and went to Selside School until he was 11. He then moved down to Riverbank, Garnett Bridge where his mother worked the corn mill. After he left school he was employed by Major Cropper as a groom and chauffeur at Summerhow in Skelsmergh for more than 10 years. In 1910 he joined the local territorial force – the Cumberland and Westmorland Yeomanry – and volunteered for overseas service after the war broke out. He served as a dispatch rider in France for nine months and was promoted to corporal. He applied for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps and after training as a pilot at Oxford and Castle Bromwich in the summer of 1916 he was stationed at Farnborough taking aircraft to France and recorded as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was killed while instructing at Norwich at the age of 27 on 19 May 1917. Jonah’s life was short but adventurous: he worked with horses, graduated to driving an early motorcar, then rode a motorbike as a dispatch rider and died flying an aeroplane – a machine that had not been invented when he had begun work as a groom a dozen years before. Unlike all the other casualties recorded on the Skelsmergh cross, he is buried locally – at Selside. He is also commemorated at Burneside.

Jonah George ThompsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Jonah Thompson died on 19 May 1917 (aged 27)

Telegram related to Jonah George ThompsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

My dear Mrs Thompson

I feel that you and Ada and everyone who love Jonah would like to see what my husband thought of him. You will of course be getting a letterfrom him direct but I just thought what he wrote to me would be of acomfort to you as well for it is just what he wrote privately to me so it ishis whole heart about Jonah. I will quote from his letter.He says: your little note about Jonah got to me last night and has mademe very unhappy. I was awfully fond of that boy and nobody could helpbeing. He was a splendid example of a cheery, fearless, clean mindedhealthy Englishman and everybody who met him loved him. His love ofoutdoor things such as shooting and riding made a special link betweenus. How jolly it was of him to want to go and work in the Hall when wewent abroad. How healthy his determination to live in a tent all summer.How like him to set his heart on the Flying Corps which he knew was themost dangerous and exciting branch of the Army. His very imperfectionswere extraordinarily human. He loved his untidy harness room withaccumulations of old motor papers and worn out clothes and uncleanedboots and he tried hard to grow flowers and creepers round it all. Dearlittle boy I never can think of him as really grown up.Then he goes on to say how much it touches him to think of Jonah’sdevotion and how he used to mind the many partings with us that keptcoming all through the war. He was wonderfully tender hearted and hesays what we both feel that what made us even fonder of him was theway he trusted us with his joys and sorrows.I think you will understand the fatherly feeling my husband had forJonah. For myself there are so many things I shall never cease to mourn– one was his great kindness and love for the children, I shall neverforget that as long as I live – nor indeed many other things. Yours with much sympathy, M C Cropper

James Robinson killed in FranceOriginal Source: Europeanan 1914-1918

24 Hours Apart

The telegrams that reported the deaths of James and his elder brother Thomas Robinson both arrived at Benson Hall in Cumbria at the beginning of October 1917. James was killed by a shell near Ypres in Belgium on September 29 1917. On the following day, many miles away in France, Thomas received a gunshot wound in the head and died from his injuries two days later. James had farmed with his father at Benson Hall but enlisted in January 1915 as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and was in France for two years before he was killed aged 22. Tom had left the area to become a police constable in Scammonden, Yorkshire. He volunteered for the West Yorkshire Regiment at Halifax in December 1915 but had been transferred to the York and Lancaster Regiment when he was killed in France in 1917 aged 31. James and Tom were sons of John and Agnes Robinson who farmed for many years at Hollin Root near Garth Row and Benson Hall and retired to Goldmire Cottage, Scalthwaiterigg. The sons’ names have been added to their father’s grave in Skelsmergh churchyard.

James RobinsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

James Robinson died on 29 September 1917 (aged 22)

Thomas RobinsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Thomas Robinson died on 2 October 1917 (aged 31)

Reuben Ellwood died of woundsOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Poor Ellwood

Reuben Ellwood was the son of Edward and Jane Ellwood of 6 Oakbank, Skelsmergh, Cumbria. Reuben attended Burneside School and then joined his father working at Cropper’s paper mill before the war but he volunteered in September 1914 at Carlisle and joined the Border Regiment. In October 1915, after the battle of Loos, the Westmorland Gazette reported a fellow soldier stating: all the Kendal men came out quite safe except poor Ellwood who got badly wounded. Reuben had received a bullet wound and gas poisoning but after a period in hospital in Birmingham he recovered and returned to the front, serving through most of 1916 and 1917. His luck ran out on 6 October 1917 when he died in a casualty clearing station from multiple shell wounds received during the Battle of Poelcapelle near Ypres. He was 27. Reuben is also on the memorial at Croppers Burneside Mill – the paper factory that now manufactures the red paper for Remembrance Day poppies. 

Reuben EllwoodOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Reuben Ellwood died on 6 October 1917 (aged 27)

George Grisdale Atkinson died of woundsOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Guardsman of 19

George Grisdale Atkinson was born in Staveley in Cumbria to Robert and Mary Atkinson and was employed by the Kendal Cooperative Society before the war. He joined the Grenadier Guards in November 1916 and was wounded in the Summer of 1917 but recovered and rejoined the battalion in September. At 5.25am on 12 October 1917 the Guards attacked on the opening day of the 1st Battle of Passchendaele. George was one of more than 300 Grenadiers who were killed during the day. He received a bullet wound in the neck and died on the ambulance train. He was 19. The muddy conditions on the battlefield were so bad and the losses so great that 1st Passchendaele was called off 24 hours later. George is also commemorated at Staveley and his Skelsmergh link is not known, although his although his mother, Mary Grisdale, was from Selside. 

George Grisdale AtkinsonOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

George Atkinson died on 12 October 1917 (aged 20)

Malcom Crossley is missingOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Prisoner of War

Malcolm Crossley was born in Kendal, Cumbria in July 1897 and moved with his parents to 28 Mealbank around 1907. He and his elder brother Bruce went to Mealbank school, leaving at the age of 14 to join his father Thomas at the Braithwaites’ woollen mill in Mealbank. When war broke out Bruce joined the Machine Gun Corps then the Tank Corps and Malcolm the Lancashire Fusiliers. Bruce was wounded in August 1918 but survived the war. Malcolm died of wounds while a prisoner of war in Germany on 16 October 1917 and is buried in Harlebeke New British Cemetery.

Malcolm Crossley's graveOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Malcolm Crossley died on 16 October 1917 (aged 19)

Memorial Plaque of Thomas Richard MajorOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Mealbank Boy of 19

Thomas Richard Major was born on 4 February 1899 and lived at 1 Mealbank in Skelsmergh, Cumbria. He went to Mealbank school leaving at the age of 14 in 1913. His parents, George and Mary Jane Major and his elder sister Hilda all worked at the Braithwaites woollen mill at Mealbank and it is likely that Thomas briefly did the same. He enlisted at Carlisle and joined the 9th Royal Welch Fusiliers but was killed near Arras in France on 22 March 1918 a few weeks after his 19th birthday. He has no known grave and nothing else is known about him. 

Thomas Richard MajorOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Thomas Richard Major died on 22 March 1918 (aged 19)

Tom Blenkhorn is reported missingOriginal Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Reluctant Hero

As the deaths mounted, men were less keen to join up. Tom Blenkhorn was called up in 1916 and was a reluctant soldier. He was an older married man of 38 and he and a friend hoped to fail their medicals by inhaling dust from old beds in a cellar the night before. The ruse did not work and he was passed A1 and drafted into the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was wounded and captured by the Germans on 22 March, 1918 and died in a German field hospital on 30 March 1918. Tom was the son of Robert and Isabella Blenkhorn who both worked as spinners at the Mealbank Mill and lived first at Summerhow in Skelsmergh, Cumbria and then at School House, Mealbank. Tom was born in Scalthwaiterigg, went to Mealbank school and then worked at the mill but around 1906, after Robert’s death, the family moved to Colne in Lancashire where one of Tom’s brothers had set up a laundry business. In 1911 Tom returned and married Mary Robinson of Scalthwaiterigg Stocks in Skelsmergh church. After he was called up, she returned to her family home and then after the war lived at Woodside Terrace, Mealbank. She remained a widow and was buried in Skelsmergh churchyard in 1968. Tom’s name and dates were added to her gravestone. The family is described in Betty Walker’s book, 'The Green Lanes, a Westmorland Childhood'.

Tom Blenkhorn with Mary RobinsonEuropeana

Thomas Blenkhorn died on 30 March 1918 (aged 38)

Richard Steel Bell died of woundsOriginal Source: Eurropeana 1914-1918

Boy Soldier

Richard Steele Bell, known as Dick, was born in 1899 at Gilthwaiterigg in Skelsmergh, Cumbria where both his parents and grandparents had farmed. By the time he was 11 the family had moved to Helsfell Hall and he was combining school with agricultural work. He was keen to volunteer and in January 1915 he enlisted in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders although still only 15. Recruits were supposed to be 18 to join up and 19 to fight overseas but, in the absence of checks, size was often sufficient and Richard was nearly six feet tall. He was in France by April 1915 but was invalided to England with throat trouble a year later. In January 1918 he was transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders and went back to France in March. This was the time of the German Spring Offensive and although the battalion was out of the front line there was heavy shelling and little cover. Richard was wounded in the back and died at a casualty clearing station in France on 20 April 1918 three days after his 19th birthday. Richard’s name is on the Burneside church cross but his parents also added it to the gravestone of his grandparents in Skelsmergh churchyard.

Dick BellEuropeana

Richard Steele Bell died on 20 April 1918 (aged 19)

Karasouli Military CemeteryEuropeana

Fatherless Boy

Thomas Grange Cragg was born in Liverpool in 1892 and was probably brought up by his uncle and aunt at Bridge End farm in Longsleddale. When he was 19 he was working as a farm labourer in Nether Levens. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was transferred to the 10th Battalion Hampshire Regiment. The Hampshires were part of a multinational force fighting the Bulgarians in Northern Greece. Tom was one of 35 men from the regiment killed in the attack at Roche Noire near Salonika during the first two days of September 1918. He was 26 and was buried in Karasouli Military Cemetery. Tom’s mother, Alice Cragg, was a dressmaker and milliner from Longsleddale who travelled widely for work. She gave birth to Tom at her brother in law’s Liverpool house and was unmarried. Tom’s father is unknown. Tom is probably commemorated in Skelsmergh because his uncle and aunt, Leonard and Grace Cragg had moved from Longsleddale to Stocks Farm in Scalthwaiterigg before the war.

Ernest Henshaw (6 December 1918)Original Source: Europeana 1914-1918

Flu Victim

In 1895 Eliza and her husband John Thomas Henshaw of Blackpool adopted a 5-month-old baby named Ernest. John was a wood turner and around 1913 he moved the family to 5 Oakbank, Skelsmergh, Cumbria in search of work. John and both his two sons, Ernest and Leonard, worked at William Shepherd’s Oak Bank Mill producing bobbins and tool handles. Ernest joined the territorials in April 1914 just before the war and, after hostilities began was in the 2nd/4th Border Regiment. In March 1915 the regiment arrived in Bombay (Mumbai) and remained in India for the next 3 years. Ernest survived the war despite suffering three bouts of malaria but died on 6 December 1918 at Cherat Hill Station while serving in Peshawar on India’s North West frontier – now part of Pakistan. His killer was the flu pandemic at the end of the war that took the lives of 50-100 million people across the world. Ernest was admitted to the Station Hospital on 3 December – the day after he returned from a 10-day holiday given to the troops to celebrate victory – and was dead three days later. John Blenkinsop, the Forest Hall shepherd who is commemorated in Selside, was another flu victim and there were also many deaths in Kendal in November 1918.

Richard (Dick) NelsonEuropeana

Joiner to Mayor

Two men linked to Skelsmergh received decorations for bravery under very different circumstances. Richard (Dick) Nelson was born at Skelsmergh, Cumbria in November 1888 and like his father and three elder brothers worked as a joiner at Stocks Mill. In 1912, at the age of 23, he emigrated to Canada. In 1916 he volunteered for the Fort Garry Horse of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and was soon in France. Corporal Nelson survived the war and in 1918, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. According to the citation, “On October 9, after his squadron had charged the Bois de Gattigny, he saw a number of enemy on the left trying to get a machine gun into position. He promptly called to three of his companions and charged this party killing some and capturing the remainder and the gun.” After the war Dick turned to farming and became mayor of Battleford in Canada. 

David Stables LongEuropeana

Ambulance driver

Two men linked to Skelsmergh received decorations for bravery under very different circumstances. David Stables Long was born at Scarfoot, Skelsmergh, Cumbria in May 1893 where both his father and grandfather had been dyewood grinders at Logwood Mill. He was educated at Mealbank school and Stramongate - then a Quaker school. Not wanting to bear arms but willing to do humanitarian work, in January 1916 he joined the Friend’s Ambulance Unit. SSA13 was a group of 45 unpaid men driving ambulances attached to the French Army. They were sometimes ferrying casualties well behind the lines but at other periods they were working under shell and gas attack and suffered alongside the regular troops. David was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his efforts. He was wounded in August 1918 and evacuated to a Birmingham hospital. He became a schoolteacher at Ackworth after the war. 

Credits: Story

The exhibition text was researched and written by Tony Cousins with help from local researchers George Stewart, David Shackleton and relatives of those who died - particularly Julia Thom, Betty Prickett, Robin Walker and Tony and Gill Nelson.

The exhibition editing, design and printing was done by Jenny Cousins with input from Bryony Cousins.

The exhibition was organised by the PCC and the Skelsmergh Men on the Memorial Committee and particularly Helen Atkinson and Vera Hawes. Mary Chapman organised publicity, Geoff Pegg gave video and technical help. Many other local people gave support, making and distributing posters, organising refreshments and loaning display boards etc.

Essential financial support was given by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Skelsmergh and Scalthwaiterigg Parish Council and the Community Hall Committee.

This virtual exhibition is based on the physical exhibition displayed in Skelsmergh on October 2014. With the consent of the authors Europeana brings it to you in a digital form.
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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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